Marijuana Use Hastens Onset of Schizophrenia

Marijuana use

Schizophrenia is one of the most well-known and perhaps the most misunderstood mental disease to the layperson. However, with the new knowledge stated in the above article and the new laws legalizing the use of Marijuana, we must understand what we may be getting ourselves into.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in favor of the legalization of Marijuana so long as there are other arguably worse drugs that are legal…and no, I do not partake and I’ve never had a desire to; which means I do not have a vested interest in the ultimate outcome of this policy.

When I mention Schizophrenia, most individuals I talk to bring up the movie A Beautiful Mind and bring up hallucinations. They also typically throw in the “Crazy” word at some point with the occasional “really” in front of it. While this can be true for some individuals, what is talked about less is the cognitive aspect of it all. After all, for these people THIS is their reality; it’s not just “something in the heads” to them, these things really do exist. Working in a mental health facility, I’ve witnessed what these individuals have to go through weekly.

Schizophrenia affects both males and females equally. Though it is found in all socioeconomic groups, it shows up more within the lower levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they start off poor, but for reasons we will discuss later, they may just end up in a worse position. Additionally, those of African descent are more likely to receive the diagnosis. The typical onset is in the early 20’s for males and later 20’s for females, though the range is between the ages of 18 and 30.

The effect on a person’s life could be dramatic based upon when they have their first episode. If a person is 17, they’re typically still in high school whereas a 30 year old is probably already done with college (unless you’re me). Those suffering from this disease find it hard to concentrate for obvious reasons and often get distracted from whatever they are doing. Their cognitive functioning is harmed because of this. An article done by Ronan O’Carroll suggested that verbal memory showed the greatest sign of impairment with these patients. Since most of education is verbal (lectures), one can only imagine how difficult it would be to get through school!

So, let’s get back to the original article which tells us that those individuals who use marijuana are likely to have their first episode about 2 years earlier than those who do not. If this is true, then the age range could potentially be 16 – 30 as typically marijuana users start in their mid to late teens. They also suggest that its use may trigger schizophrenia in those individuals that wouldn’t develop it otherwise.

As adolescence is a critical time for development within the brain. Potentially, the author suggests, the use of the drug could have an effect on the maturation of certain functions within the brain. Some may argue that 2 years is not a whole lot of time, however, 2 years of extra development could mean a lot. Two years could mean that the person has a diploma and is that much more employable and it could even mean finishing college completely!

One of the biggest complaints about the article is that the individuals who did the study did not just look at Marijuana use; in fact, the words that were used were “Alcohol” and “Other illegal drugs. They stated in the title that it was just about Marijuana. The article goes on to state that substance abusers in general were more likely to have their first symptoms 2 years earlier. This leaves a huge question within my mind about the validity to the claim that it’s Marijuana because it could potentially be any other illegal drug.

Ultimately, if these results are true for Marijuana use, the potential consequences could be devastating on an individual level. It is clear that this research needs to be refined to distinguish between the different types of drugs there are. If this holds true for Marijuana, then we must prepare for the potential consequences. For example, funding mental health hospitals to better deal with these issues, though we should be funding mental health more to begin with as it is sorely lacking and often overlooked. We must educate the populace of the potential harmful effects that this could have on younger individuals. This will not guarantee anything, of course, but it will allow individuals to make a more educated decision.

2 thoughts on “Marijuana Use Hastens Onset of Schizophrenia

  1. valvarez

    I thought this topic was definitely interesting given the fact that marijuana use has gained a lot of traction over the years. So my two cents on this, I definitely do believe that marijuana can be cause of faster development of Schizophrenia among other metal disorders. I don’t know if you attended the lecture about Alzheimer’s last year with the special guest speaker from Cornell but a lot of what he explained makes sense to how the brain could be damaged. Before I go into anything I just wanted to say I have nothing against marijuana and what it comes down is that drug cause harm to your body whether we know exactly how or not. I’m definitely a interested in how brain damage can effect us on a day to day bases. So this what I know, part of process of getting ‘high’ is do to increasing the amount of dopamine within your system. From what I learned in that lecture, increased levels of dopamine becomes toxic and turns into tar within the brain. Tar eventually inhibits function within that region in the brain. I also know that majority of our dopamine receptors within the brain are located within our frontal cortex. Now if someone is consistent user they more than likely have built a tolerance and use more to get the same ‘high’ which could potential lead to greater damage and more tar within other locations of the brain.

  2. arunk

    I”m glad that you talked about the possible problems presented in this article at the end of your post. I think it’s really important to note that marijuana use has by no means been found to cause schizophrenia, there has only been a correlation found between marijuana use and earlier onset of symptoms for people who would have had a psychotic break regardless of their drug use. There is also a difference between drug induced psychosis and true schizophrenia. I think a lot f the research published in the past does a poor job of making that distinction. They also do a poor job controlling for other drug use. As for the above comment, frequent use of marijuana has not been found to lead to permanent increases in dopamine levels in the brain, meaning there is no evidence to suggest long term use of marijuana would lead to the development of plaques and tangles like those seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Overall, we know very little about the long term effects of marijuana use on cognition because there is very little research on the topic and, like the article mentioned in this post, most of the research that has been conducted until recently is of poor quality.

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